Initial Release Date: May 10, 2016
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End wraps up the Nathan Drake story that started way back in 2007 with Drake’s Fortune. After it’s initial debut on PS3, Naughty Dog’s actions series was highly praised for its visuals, set pieces, and story. Coming off the very, very different Crash Bandicoot, Naughty Dog has wrapped up the story brilliantly in A Thief’s End.
Uncharted 4 presents a complete package of visual candy, interesting story, fun gameplay, and a collection of throwbacks for fans of the series. It’s no surprise that the game received a resounding amount of praise from the game review press back in 2016 when it initially released.
Visually Unmatched in Console Game
Uncharted 4 presents an absolutely gorgeous visual experience for both new and experienced players of the series. The detail in the characters, environments, and presentation give a complete visual package that is not truly rivaled by its contemporaries. In fact, my significant other, watching me play occasionally, could not tell the difference between cutscene and actual game play footage.
Not only are the actual graphics extremely well done, but the presentation of said graphics truly set Uncharted 4 apart. While other games can really give great attention to detail and hyper-realism, Uncharted 4 gave Naughty Dog a showcase is showing the best ways to present those graphics. With the screenshot function only a click away on PS4, Uncharted 4 can have players clicking early and often.
Players will come upon grand scenes or environments such as a huge expanse of African plain leading up to huge buildings in the distance. This presentation not only gives a screenshot opportunity, it also weaves nicely into the gameplay to not break any immersion. It’s this potent mix that really caught my eye and therefore my praise.
To further accentuate these factors, Naughty Dog picked the right locales to really give a variety of visuals to player. If the game was entirely in the jungle for 20 hours, you might get some visual fatigue. However, Uncharted 4’s varied locales allow for even more visually powerful experiences.
With all this praise for the visuals, I will say I was a bit disappointed in the grand reveal for a big secret location about halfway through the game. The reveal wasn’t bad or mishandled, it just lacked the wow factor I had expected given the grandiose presentation of all the smaller feats.
Pacing Spot On
Naughty Dog really hit its stride in Uncharted 4’s pacing. While I am very fond of Uncharted 2, I did find my self thinking the game overstayed its welcome in certain spots. Uncharted 4 remedied this probably for me, giving just enough time in each location to get the interesting portions complete, without feeling burnt out.
First, and as will be explained below, the story’s pace remains steady and interesting. In fact, my significant other demanded that I keep playing at one point, in order to get more information on the ongoing story.
The game is a great example of taking and addressing the common critique of games with too much “filler.” JPRGs are famous for sticking grindy, long sequences into games simply to pad out the play time. Uncharted 4 does a great job of stripping fat and giving a lean but satisfying pace to the entirety of the experience.
This is quite an amazing achievement given the game does not have any RPG or true progression elements. Drake’s weapons and skills are mostly stock from chapter 1, but yet the new environments and challenges keep things interesting despite the classic gaming carrot of “character progression.”
Lastly, Naughty Dog has also mastered the art of hiding loading screens to keep pacing and immersion going. While it may seem obvious where those spots are, for instance crawling through a hole in a rock outcrop, not having to sit at a static screen with a loading bar does keep you glued to the screen.
Homages Give Send-Off to Drake
As the fourth main line story game, Uncharted 4 does a great job of hearkening back to Drake’s previous adventures. As a fan and veteran of the series, these parts stuck out to me and did channel my nostalgia for the PS3 entries.
The game makes several references to the specific events in Drake’s past that well-versed players will appreciate. In some instances, the story really showcases certain adventures which instantly brought my own experience, playing through that prior adventure, instantly to mind. These are presented in a way that will please veterans while not leaving new players left stumped.
My absolutely favorite throwback was the Crash Bandicoot portion. At one point early in the game you actually play Crash Bandicoot on the in-game Playstation. I thought this was woven well into the game and was a direct throwback to players like me that have seen Naughty Dog evolve from its humble origins.
Gameplay Solid, but not Revolutionary
The basic sequence of Uncharted 4 gameplay is cutscene, exploring, platforming, and then throw in the occasional firefight or stealth sequence. While that may sound like a really basic description, Naughty Dog does a great job in polishing their basic loop.
First, the cut scenes and the platforming (which is mostly cliff climbing) is greatly enhanced by the visuals. Navigating the platforming gives those opportunities to show off the locales. Furthermore, I felt there was increase in responsiveness to the controls for the climbing portions compared to older entries. This made the whole process much more smooth.
The combat sequences are generally the same as past games, with the general sequence involving picking up weapons and ammo and then taking the necessary cover to eventually eliminate all enemies. However, in Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog has added some more interesting wrinkles, such as rope swinging and other movement opportunities that add spice to an otherwise fairly straightforward gameplay moment.
This also applies to the stealth sections. In general, I am not a big fan of stealth sections in the Uncharted series as I feel like it clashes a bit with the action bravado of the series. However, in Thief’s End, the stealth has its uses rather than being a reset magnet for me.
Lastly, Thief’s End adds multiple vehicle sections that add just the right amount of variety to the exploration portions. These sections also include their own bits of puzzle or challenge, and are broken up by the stealth/combat in some spots. The total blend keeps up variety and interest, despite the otherwise rudimentary abstract-view of the sequence.
Story Improved From Previous Titles
While the gameplay did not have a truly big change in feel from the prior entries, I thought the story was improved. Previous Uncharted titles have been noted for their stories but I’ve honestly not been particularly impressed. I did however, think that Uncharted 4 finally gave some story that I could get into.
The story centers around Drake’s relationship with his brother, as well as his wife and best friend Sully. All are familiar with the grandiose, world trotting of Drake and therefore fit right in with his need to jump from continent to continent.
Drake is seeking to prevent a former business partner from getting a large pirate treasure. This sends Drake to Africa, Scotland, and other locations that give the variety I’ve continually referenced.
While not exactly a completely faithful historical reconstruction, the pursuit of Henry Avery’s treasure is a great context for the gameplay. I was kept interested in what would be revealed next as the story (again, with the great pacing mentioned earlier) kept me glued to the screen. In this entry, I think I appreciated the characters much more than the prior games.
Sully, Drake, and the others have become familiar to me as a veteran of the series. But the main villan’s and other characters (who I do not want to spoil) feel more fleshed out and nuanced than the prior games. Further, the twists and turns of the story create a nice balance of tension and pivotal moments for the cutscenes.
Uncharted 4 does not have multiplayer, which I might consider a plus in this case. The other games has multiplayer, but I think Naughty Dog decided to hone in on maximizing the first player experience. I think the result worked.
One glaring point that I did not care for were the collectibles. I am generally averse to the collectible side of single player games, but in Uncharted it just feels even more useless. You simply stumble onto world artifacts by looking for nonobvious routes through the game. I just didn’t get excited for this part of the game.
In conclusion, Uncharted 4 might just be the pinnacle of the series for me. Having played the previous games in the series, I was particularly pleased with the callbacks and homages made to Drake’s previous adventures (as well as Naughty Dog’s!). Uncharted 4 manages to blend a compelling story with a great graphical presentation and topped off with nice pacing. Even though the gameplay is not a great change from the past, Uncharted 4 still manages to do so much right that the game is a must-play for PS4 players, and certainly fans of the series.
+Throw-backs to previous games for veterans of the series
+Lack of filler
-Fairly straightforward combat sequences
-Boring collectibles aspects
Final Score: 9.1/10